Slept in (till about 9 am) this morning and made our way to the Vatican Museums. The lines to get in were hideously long (snaking around the Leonine wall almost to the Pz. di Rosorgimento!). We decided to forgo seeing the Sistine Chapel with the throngs and walked towards Pz. di S. Pietro instead.
Here you can see the latest addition to the Leonine wall - a new gate, just finished, built to relieve traffic congestion in the Vatican City. This may be the first structure to have the words "Benedictus XVI P.M. AD MMV Pont. I" (Ben. 16, Supreme Pontiff, 2005 AD, in the first year of his pontificate), in the traditional style various pontifical public works are commemorated. [The actual inscrption on the gate doesn't match the one in the press release. For one, it says MMV, not MMVI. Don't know what the story is.]
The line to get through security into the Basilica was shorter and fast moving. A horde of Italian schoolchildren cut their way ahead of us and a hardy German pilgrim tried her best to argue with their teacher. Guess her Italian wasn't good, or the Italians just don't listen to the Germans anymore (except the Bishop of Rome of course!). Took the shot above while waiting in line.
It was a beautiful spring day (which turned rather cold and grey later in the afternoon), blue skies with wispy clouds. The line to take the elevator to the Cupola was immense. The one to visit the tomb of Pope John Paul II much much shorter. Within a few minute we were in the crypt beneath the Basilica, passing the graves of various Popes - Paul VI, John Paul I, Benedict XV, and two queens - Carola of Cypress and Christina of Sweden. And then ...
I really didn't expect to be as overcome by emotion as I was. I should have -- I bawled like a baby last April. Around the corner was the Niche of the Pallia (part of the Confessio S. Petri -- the area enclosing the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles), where I stopped in prayer.
One exits through the other side, out by the Ufficio Scavi (unfortunately, I didn't get a request in time to visit the Vatican Necropolis. They're booked up! I cannot recommend this enough for anyone who might be headed to the Eternal City), which provides a slightly different perspective on the massive Basilica.
Spent a good chunk of time in the Vatican bookstore and resisted the temptation to splurge on the Latin edition of the Liturgy of Hours (46.80€/volume). Figured the self-denial would be (ironically) spiritually beneficial as well as easy on the checkbook. I'll save it for seminary.